Mission of care continues

Mike Genet
Volunteer worker Gary Hatfield moves supplies in the new Francisan Mission Warehouse space in the caves north of the river.

A year into its partnership with a national medical-supply organization, the Franciscan Mission Warehouse continues to flourish and has been active even amid the pandemic.

For years, after moving from a smaller location in northeast Kansas City, the Warehouse had been in a 9,000-square foot facility at the Franciscan Sisters’ home off Noland Road in Independence.

The organization born from Sister Andrea Kantner's simple desire to ship some stomach medicine to people upriver in Brazil has taken in donations of surplus medical supplies and gathers funds to ship those supplies to developing parts of the world. For $15,000, they could send a 20-foot shipping container of supplies, worth up to $200,000 and beyond and enough to equip a 30-bed hospital.

In 2019, the Warehouse began a partnership withProject C.U.R.E. (Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment), based in suburban Denver, the world's largest provider of medical supplies to developing areas. The Noland Road facility soon became too small for such a collection center, with more supplies on hand and not ideal access for larger shipping containers.

“It’s not something we had planned” at first, Sister Kantner said of needing to seek out a new location. “We were looking for something that was about 50,000 square feet, and we debated whether we wanted to be above ground or underground. We knew we needed to be close enough to the interstate so that getting containers in and out would be feasible.”

In the spring, workers moved all the Warehouse inventory from the Independence location to space in the Hunt Midwest SubTropolis caves, just north of the river and south of Worlds of Fun. After Project C.U.R.E. raised about $1 million, they recently started building out their space to include restrooms, break rooms and offices to outfit its newest regional distribution center.

Amid the move and renovation, the Warehouse continues to take in supplies, and it has also played in part in Project C.U.R.E.’s effort to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to some outlying medical facilities or other locations that didn’t have easy access to supplies amid the pandemic. Among the beneficiaries, Kantner says: the Jackson County Detention Center, Healthcare Co-op of Rural Missouri and Hiawatha Community Hospital and Mitchell County Hospital in northern Kansas.

“We haven’t sent anything overseas this year because of the virus,” Sister Kantner said. “We’re using the PPEs we had on hand to help out the smaller houses. We had them on hand, and we more recently got a shipment in.”

Kim Day, chairperson of Project C.U.R.E.’s ambassador board, said the organization has made about 400 shipments of PPE around the country.

“Here in Kansas City we did a limited amount,” Day said, “but for the people that reached out and asked, we were pleased we were able to help them.”

After building out the new underground facility, the Warehouse hopes to start taking in regular groups of volunteers in a couple months, continuing what had become a favorite part of the Warehouse operations.

“When things get settled more, we’ll give training to people who want to volunteer, and the volunteer recruiters,” Sister Kantner said.

The Franciscan Mission Warehouse’s effort remains the same, even as operations multiply. With Project C.U.R.E’s larger shipments, they now cost about $25,000 to send out. But the supply value is still at least 10 times that, she said.

“We’ll still continue to help with sending shipments out of this area,” Sister Kantner said.

Day said that whereas they sent about 14 shipments a year from the old warehouse, by next year they hope to send 40 to 50 annually.

“The transition has gone exceptionally well,” he said. “The Sisters are excited their ministry is going to be able to carry forward with Project C.U.R.E.”